2019 was a year defined by unlikely successes. Before releasing their Billboard-charting singles, Lil Nas X dropped out of college, pop superstar Lizzo was homeless and surf-rock darling Dominic Fike was recently released from jail. These examples showcase that, in the age of streaming, artists can arise from the unlikeliest of circumstances.
To find who the next breakout artist will be, I assembled a list of nine artists to watch in 2020.
1. Baby Keem
Being the cousin of rapper Kendrick Lamar certainly has its benefits. Having already written and produced for Beyonce and Lamar at the age of 18, Baby Keem received attention for his single “ORANGE SODA.” Produced by Keem and Keanu Beats, “ORANGE SODA” recently re-entered the Billboard Hot 100.
Baby Keem’s ear-catching vocals and production that amalgamates elements of melodic rap, punk and trap sets him apart from his peers. What also differentiates Baby Keem from his peers is his focus on visuals. The music videos for his tracks “ORANGE SODA,” “HONEST” and “MOSHPIT” feature impressive cinematography and an undeniable bombastic energy. Being co-signed by Jay-Z and being signed to Sony Music Entertainment will help propel his career, and with new music on the way, Baby Keem will be defining the trap wave for 2020.
2. TOKYO’S REVENGE
First gaining traction because of his musical similarity to XXXTentacion, TOKYO’S REVENGE’s short career has been defined by virality. He first gained notoriety from his TikTok-friendly song “GOODMORNINGTOKYO!” The song, which is adorned with an eerie sub-bass and a cacophony of dog barks, is already an underground smash-hit with over 49 million streams on Spotify and a rambunctious music video.
With racy bars biting pop culture figure James Charles and comparing his crew to Super Smash Bros, TOKYO’S REVENGE is as controversial as he is witty. His music bleeds charisma, which is showcased in his infectious tonality on his debut EP, MDNGHT (SIDE B). There seems to be no end to the upward trajectory of his career.
3. Ryan Leahan
As a current student and another artist who saw his success rise from TikTok, Ryan Leahan’s single “My Little” was placed in Spotify’s Discover Weekly and has now accumulated over 4 million streams. Alongside a slick music video, “My Little” introduced the world to Leahan’s lighthearted sound. At times, his aesthetic can be described as bedroom-pop with songs like “Right Here, For You.” On the other hand, he has the ability to create hardcore rap tracks such as “Listen, I’m Twisted” with his rap group Requiem Inc. Leahan’s sound is primed for mainstream success.
4. 99 Neighbors
Much like the beloved rap collective BROCKHAMPTON — which features a mix of 15 artists, producers, managers, directors and photographers — 99 Neighbors encompasses a blend of musicians and creatives. The group dynamic is impeccable and is best shown off in the single “Ripstick,” where HANKNATIVE lays down an anthemic hook, Sam Paulino drops smooth and buttery bars and rapper Swank reminisces about what he has achieved.
While “Ripstick” represents the group’s hardcore rap shtick, its most popular single “Fuck No (feat. Brasstracks & PhiloSofie)” showcases its ability to produce radio-friendly pop as the members of the group sarcastically diss their exes. Signed to Warner Records, 99 Neighbors is a talented collective that has the opportunity to reach mainstream success.
5. REI AMI
REI AMI incorporates her internal dichotomy into her songs. Each of her three singles begin as braggadocious rap bangers but slowly transform into emotional cries for help. For example, she begins “DICTATOR” with stating how she’s a “red dress latrodectus” but ends by asking, “why you gotta treat me so cold?”
REI AMI’s music offers criticism of typical genre protocol, refusing to be defined. With support from Billie Eilish’s producer FINNEAS and being featured on 88Rising, a popular mass media company used to promote Asian artists, it seems that the more music REI AMI releases, the more her popularity will bloom.
Beabadoobee is bringing grunge rock back to mainstream acclaim. With hits such as “If You Want To,” “She Plays Bass” and “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus,” alongside nominations for the Brit Award for Rising Star and the BBC award for Sound of 2020, beabadoobee already has the attention of the mainstream.
Currently on tour with The 1975, beabadoobee’s story to stardom is fairytale-esque. According to The Guardian, after recording her first single “Coffee” with a second-hand guitar her dad bought her, the song received thousands of plays within a few days leading to a record deal with Dirty Hit.
Along with her personal releases, her song “Coffee” was sampled by rapper Powfu for the song “death bed (feat. beabadoobee),” which has been streamed over nine million times since Feb. 8 and has been in the Spotify Global Viral 50 since its release.
7. Christian Alexander
Moody, morose and isolated are all valid descriptors of Christian Alexander’s aesthetic. Already releasing two astonishing projects in 2019, Alexander meshes singer-songwriter acoustics with glitchy lo-fi production to create a sound that is wholly his own.
Alexander’s lyrics create a swarming sense of anxiety. His single “So High” has garnered over 380,000 views on YouTube. Alexander croons over a dance beat while describing a bad trip with lyrics like, “Know that someday this will grab a hold of me/Anxiety, it’s hard to be the person that I want to be.”
The England-based artist has already found his own melancholy sound and a solid fanbase on both YouTube and Spotify.
Although LoveLeo has only officially released one song, he has all the makings of a pop superstar. With over 100,000 followers on Instagram, a Genius Verified interview and over 5 million views for his song "BOYFREN” on YouTube, LoveLeo is already viral.
The music video was released via godmode — an artist development company based in Los Angeles who have already made artists Yaeji and Channel Tres underground stars. In just three months, “BOYFREN” has become godmode’s most viewed video. LoveLeo’s quirky visuals and Freddie Mercury-like aesthetic have already made his first song a hit, and the future looks bright for the young star-in-the-making.
9. Jean Dawson
Being described as a mixture of OutKast, The Cure, Kid Cudi and Kanye West by Essence, Jean Dawson fits the mold of an internet artist: genre-less sound and niche titles. With song titles like “Napster” and “Ssick Girl Online,” the combination of radio-friendly melodies, airy vocals and hip-hop production makes Dawson’s sound prime for 2020.
Dawson’s new single “BRUISEBOY,” released Feb. 12, has already gained over 130,000 streams on Spotify, propelling his monthly listeners to over 190,000. His genre-less sound makes his music appealing in the streaming age. His features on Spotify’s Anti Pop, Lorem and HYPERPOP playlists will help Dawson’s sound reach the mainstream.